Ode to Bere Island Heritage & Memory

 Where to begin…

The islands off Ireland’s coast offer insights into many aspects of heritage. A very good friend of mine, Rosarie, hails from Bere Island off County Cork. Born and raised there, she now lives in Cork City but her sense of pride for her home island very much remains and shines out. So I have been brought to Bere Island on a numer of occassions. I was also brought there in Transition year in school by my maths teacher at the time, Ted O’Sullivan. I had to do a project at that time on the island’s martello towers.

My own research interests involve the human interactions with the landscape, rural and urban. Bere Island has a rich natural history encompassing a raw landscape torn up by melting glaciers, thousands of years ago. The human history of the island presents a rich narrative of colonisation, native and foreign, all aimed at survival.  This story today is told through myth, folklore,  old documents and through the island’s monuments. Below is a brief history of the island but I have added other potential research questions to the narrative.

Bere Island (Irish: An tOileán Mór) is an island in the west of County Cork in the Ireland. The island is also known as Bear Island. It is roughly 11 km x 5 km in dimension. (potential research: townland names & derivatives)

Legend says that the island was named by a 2nd Century king of Munster, Mogh Nuadat, in honour of his wife, Beara, the daughter of Heber Mor, King of Castile (research potential: Early Irish relations with Spain)

Early traces of human occupation include Megalithic tombs and Standing Stones. (potential research: memory of structures).

The island was the property of the O’Sullivan Bere clan and remained so until the power of the Gaelic chieftans was finally broken in 1602. This period also saw the first military interest in the island when Sir George Carew ordered a road to be built across the island to transport the pro-English forces to the Siege of Dunboy (potential research: Colonisation and plantation in West Cork in the early seventeenth century).

In December 1796 a French fleet entered Bantry Bay, led by General Hoche under the direction of Wolfe Tone, the leader of the United Irishmen. Adverse winds prevented the main force landing and eventually caused the fleet to disperse and return home. In August 1798 there was a further invasion attempt, at Killala in County Mayo, following the Irish Rebellion of that year.(potential research: Irish-French relations)

The result of these events was that the British authorities reviewed their defensive plans and in 1803, with the country once again at war with France, Lieutenant-Colonel William Twiss was sent to Ireland to draw up a plan of defence for the country. As part of this review he was directed to examine what security could be given to Bantry Bay.

Rear-Admiral, Sir Robert Calder, who commanded the naval squadron based in Bantry Bay, wrote to the Rt. Hon. William Wickham on 22 December 1803 to request protection for his victualers and store ships, which were to be based at the Berehaven anchorage to supply his squadron . Wickham agreed that protection for the ships was necessary and instructed Lord Cathcart to order his engineers to carry out the work. (potential research: engineering in late eighteenth century).

The Bere Island towers were reported as ready on 2 February 1805 and were therefore probably the earliest Irish towers to be completed . The four, all circular in shape and built of rubble masonry, were sited to defend the anchorage between the mainland and the small harbour of Lawrence Cove on Bere Island. (potential research: Colonial experience, way of life, society).

In addition to the Martello Towers, a signal tower, a barracks for 2 officers and 150 men, a quay and storehouses were also constructed.

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars there followed a period of military stagnation. This ended in 1898 when the British Military raised a compulsory purchase order on large areas of the island in order to construct additional fortifications in order to protect the British Fleet at anchor in the bay.

In 1922, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that followed the Irish War of Independence, the British withdrew from most of Ireland but three deep water Treaty Ports, at Berehaven, Queenstown (renamed Cobh) and Lough Swilly, were retained as sovereign bases until 1938. (potential research project: oral histories, twentieth century as begun in Heritage Centre, Check out http://bereisland.net/heritage_centre.htm)


  • Battery, Ardaragh West, Cloonaghlin West
  • Circular Enclosure, Greenane
  • Hut Site, Ardaragh West
  • Martello tower, Ardaragh West, Cloonaghlin West (also Telegraph Station)
  • Promontory fort
  • Ringfort, Cloonaghlin West, Greenane
  • Signal Tower, Derrycreeveen
  • Standing Stone, Greenane
  • Collapsed Wedge Tomb, Ardaragh West

Bere Island bound 11 09

Bere Island bound 11 09

Bere Island bound, Castlehaven Bay 11 09

Bere Island bound 11 09

Lawrence Cove Bere Island 11 09

Bere Island look out tower

Lawrence Cove, Bere Island 11 09

Bere Island Heritage Centre 11 09

Bere Island Heritage Centre

Bere Island Heritage Centre

Lawrence Cove, Bere Island 11 09

Bere Island 11 09

Bere Island School trip & Life

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